Having sampled most of Infiniti’s current lineup at one time or another, the M was never one of my favorite models (incidentally, the one model I haven’t driven before). The original M45 was wrapped in extremely conservative styling, but featured the fire-breathing 340-horsepower V8 of the larger and more expensive Q45 flagship; it was basically a Japanese muscle car.
The second-generation Infiniti M added a less-expensive V6 model, as well as the availability of all wheel drive, all in a body that was far more curvaceous than the previous model. The interior also enjoyed a new design, with one of Nissan/Infiniti’s first implementations of its new touchscreen/control wheel navigation interfaces at the top of a large center stack. The M is a fairly expensive car, but it also contains a lot of slick technology.
When I learned that I’d be getting an M35 to review, I was initially disappointed that I was getting the “slow one,” rather than the 4.5 liter V8-powered M45. As it turned out, I honestly never once for a second felt a need for the extra 22 horsepower that the V8 would bring to the table. The VQ 3.5 liter V6 is rated at 303 horsepower in the M35s (versus 325 horsepower for the now down-rated 4.5 liter V8 in the M45), and makes that power without the use of direct injection or forced induction. When my parents visited last weekend, my father assumed that the “s” in the model designation indicated a supercharger; from a power standpoint, it might as well have (it means “Sport,” by the way). Even with traction control engaged, the M could spin its rear tires (note that my test vehicle was an M35s, not an all-wheel drive M35x) in both first and second gears without careful throttle application, and the car really accelerated from nearly any speed with a huge sense of urgency, with one exception: in D(rive) mode or in DS (Drive Sport) mode, the transmission sometimes didn’t kick down far enough for maximum performance, in spite of having plenty of available ratios. Shifts were smooth and quickly actuated, with my belief that the only limitation that the M35’s transmission suffers is a lack of shift paddles behind the steering wheel for manual gear changes.
By Chris Haak
Fulfilling a campaign pledge, President Obama announced today that he has instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its 2007 decision that denied California and the 13 states that have adopted California’s auto emissions rules a Clean Air Act waiver that would have allowed them to establish limits on CO2 emission from automobiles.
California and the other states (Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington) wanted the EPA to allow them to restrict CO2 as it allows them to restrict other pollutants from internal combustion engines, but the EPA’s argument was that California’s rules at the time would result in actually higher greenhouse gas emissions (and fuel consumption).
Unlike the smog-forming pollution that California and its compatriot states are allowed to regulate, CO2 is not a smog-forming gas, but a greenhouse gas, that has been linked to an increase in global warming. California argues that CO2 is something that it should be able to regulate; historically, California has been allowed to set its own pollution standards because it enacted the first of its emission standards prior to Federal regulations covering the same; however, the Federal government has historically held the authority to set fuel efficiency standards. Basically, California’s regulation to reduce CO2 emissions is a de-facto fuel economy standard, because the only way to reduce CO2 emissions is to burn less fuel. As fuel is burned, CO2 is released; that’s the simple science behind it.
He said, she said – we don’t usually get the opportunity to hear the always different male/female perspective on the same vehicle, but we have that exact opportunity this month with the Chevrolet Traverse. Our writer Roger Boylan and our guest writer Victoria Mason both drive the Traverse for a week and report the results. Follow the link at the end of this review to read Roger’s take on the same vehicle.
By Victoria Mason
Within minutes of having the Chevy Traverse LTZ dropped off in my driveway my neighbors began to ask questions and prowl around it. I drove the Traverse, Chevy’s newest crossover vehicle, for a week. This vehicle turned heads and that was just sitting in park. I was quite surprised; from the chrome trim on the outside, to the impressively stylized cockpit inside, everyone on my block wanted to take peek at something on this vehicle.
Chevy designed the Traverse to be the ultimate family vehicle and to compete with the Honda Pilot, Ford Flex and Toyota Highlander. I have driven all but the Ford Flex and can safely say that the Traverse is just as smooth a ride as those other two crossovers. It handles corners remarkably well for its bulk and you barely hear or feel the engine whether you are idling at a light or cruising down the highway. The Traverse is a large vehicle that drives like a small one. There are tight tolerances between body components, the results of which are enhanced by the Traverse’s rigid body structure. The aerodynamic look of the Traverse is actually functional as it reduces wind noise, too.
The Traverse has a 3.6L V-6 engine and it gets 17 mpg city and 24 highway in FWD and 16 mph city/23 highway on the AWD. It took me a week of preschool runs and local errands to go through a tank of gas. I will freely admit that I loved being behind the wheel of this vehicle despite not being in love with the look of the Traverse. It just screamed station wagon to me, and for this Mom, that is not going to sell me.
By Andy Bannister
There are some unusually nervous faces at Toyota’s European operations just now as bosses anxiously wait to see what reception will be given to the company’s latest mid-range car, the third generation Avensis.
Smaller than the Camry – which has always been too big and bland to achieve much success in Europe – the Avensis was designed in France and is built in England. It is aimed squarely at some pretty formidable competition, including the class-leading VW Passat, Ford’s Mondeo, and the GM Insignia, recently crowned European Car of the Year.
Toyota sales have been disappointing of late, even before the current economic woes began to bite. The company was left with egg on its face after its grandiose ambitions to become the leading import brand in Germany in 2008 failed to materialise. Growth has also stagnated in other key markets.
People a little older than me – or even perhaps close to my age (I’m 33) might remember a simpler time, when pickup trucks were available with only sepvinyl seats, hand crank windows, and maybe an AM radio and heater if you were living large. In fact, I was two years old in 1977 when GM first introduced power windows in its full-size trucks. Cloth seats were the the upscale interior choice (leather was only found in Cadillac and Lincoln sedans for the most part) and there was quite a bit of exposed painted metal in the interior of trucks and SUVs.
Over the years, however, as Detroit realized that there was a lot of money to be made in selling large trucks – and even more money to be made in the sale of expensive options in those large trucks such as leather seats, Bose stereos, navigation systems, aluminum wheels, and more. The combination of low gasoline prices and the macho image of pickup trucks combined to make pickups extremely popular personal-use vehicles, and led to the creation of luxury pickups.
Now, I don’t necessarily consider the GMC Sierra Denali to be a true luxury vehicle (it’s missing a luxury brand name, and a luxury brand dealer experience, for example), but GMC’s Denali line has seen more success than some of its competitors both within GM (i.e., Cadillac Escalade EXT) and outside GM (i.e., Lincoln Blackwood, Lincoln Mark LT). I recently spent an entire 1,200 mile road trip from eastern Pennsylvania to Detroit – and back – in a 2008 Sierra Denali, and was impressed by how far trucks have come over the past few years. Moreover, the fact that the full-size pickup segment is so competitive means that while the Denali might have been the best half ton pickup on the road just 12 months ago, the all-new 2009 Ram and 2009 F-150 are going to give it a run for its money.
By Chris Haak
In an effort to keep up with the Joneses – in this case, the new Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart – Subaru upgraded its WRX for the 2009 model year with a horsepower boost from 224 to 265 and made the car available with only manual transmission. However, much of what the 2008 WRX had, including the 224 horsepower/226 lb-ft of torque 2.5 liter turbocharged boxer four, was transferred directly in the the newest Impreza model, the Impreza 2.5GT.
The castoffs from the old WRX still consist of some pretty solid hardware. As with all Subarus sold in North America, the 2.5GT comes with standard symmetrical all wheel drive. As noted earlier, an automatic transmission is also standard (albeit a four-speed automatic), as are 17 inch aluminum wheels, a 10-speaker stereo with a 6-disc CD changer, power moonroof, leather wrapped steering wheel, automatic (single-zone) climate control, power windows and locks, and remote keyless entry. So, pretty much all of the modern conveniences to be expected in nearly any car in this price range are included.
I won’t beat up the Impreza for it’s looks; while its style is something only its mother could love (or in this case, its designer), nearly every other review of the Impreza has lambasted the car for its styling. Suffice it to say that if you’re someone who values outward appearances in your automobile, you’d be best served by looking elsewhere. The various creases and angles are similar to those in the also-overwrought Acura lineup, yet the tall greenhouse is even worse. Most cars look best in profile; the Impreza looks best from head-on. The top-dog (and far more expensive) STi variant gets different fenders front and rear with aggressive flares, and that works far better than the somewhat stylistically-challenged, nearly bulge-less fenders in the “regular” Impreza.
By David Surace
Bloomberg is reporting that Toyota’s in-bound President Akio Toyoda, grandson of the company’s original founder Kiichiro Toyoda, plans to replace most of Toyota’s current management structure when he comes into office in June to take the place of outbound president Katsuake Watanabe, according to “people […] who asked not to be identified because the changes haven’t yet been announced”. According to those same sources, Watanabe would then stay on board to become vice chairman.
The axe-swinging is most likely related to the recent operating losses and drop in sales (some 15% last year), and would involve not only the company’s other four executive VP’s, but also almost all of the nineteen senior managing directors on staff. Whether they would end up at other posts within the company or sacked altogether isn’t clear.
By Chris Haak
Ford has announced that it will introduce a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox for its Fiesta subcompact in 2010 in North America. The new gearbox, called PowerShift and supplied by Getrag, will be a key component of Ford’s strategy to increase the fuel economy of its products; the other part of that strategy, of course, is the twin-turbo, direct injection EcoBoost engines that will proliferate the lineup in coming years.
According to Ford, the PowerShift gearbox in the Fiesta weighs some 30 pounds less than the conventional four-speed automatic found in the US-market Focus, yet gets nine percent better fuel economy than does the Focus’ transaxle. The gearbox will be Ford’s first offered in the US, although the European Focus offers a different wet clutch dual-clutch gearbox with its 2.0 liter diesel powerplant that is capable of handling the diesel’s greater torque loads.
Dual-clutch gearboxes are not yet widespread in their application, but are generally well-regarded as a high-tech solution to the compromise between the best parts of a manual transmission (no torque converter losses) and an automatic transmission (smooth operation and power delivery, convenience in traffic). Many enthusiasts who swore off “automatic” transmissions over the past few decades have sampled dual-clutch gearboxes and have come away impressed; what’s not to like about better fuel economy, smoother and faster shifting, and better performance, after all? Nissan thought so highly of dual-clutch gearboxes that the only choice in the GT-R sports car is one of them; Porsche has been making a lot of noise about its new PDK twin-clutch gearbox in its performance cars, and BMW has added one to the M3’s option list, among others.
Among non-premium, non-performance cars, however, Ford is setting itself up as a powertrain technology leader. Having both the EcoBoost and PowerShift technology available on different vehicles throughout its lineup will absolutely differentiate Ford from its more pedestrian competition. Right now, only Volkswagen offers anything similar in the price range – and nearly everyone who has sampled a VW DSG has come away impressed. Chrysler could have been in a similar good spot had its joint venture to produce dual-clutch gearboxes not fallen through in 2008; the company now intends to move forward with conventional torque converter automatics instead. GM has not announced any dual-clutch gearbox initiatives; imagine a ZR1 with its 638-horsepower supercharged V8 and a dual-clutch gearbox snapping off gear changes like a rifle bolt. That thought – however unlikely at this point – nearly makes me salivate.
Ford’s press release follows after the jump.